Danielle digs in
A Canadian oil company is facing allegations it made bogus environmental claims to boost its appeal to investors. A climate-friendly province is fighting the carbon tax and, of course, Ontario’s Greenbelt saga continues.
Meanwhile, hurricane Idalia tore through Florida this week, while super typhoon Saola hit Hong Kong. Superheated oceans are making these storms worse, and Canada’s waters are in uncharted territory as hurricane season arrives.
This week, I took a look at the latest salvo in Alberta’s political fight with the feds over clean electricity regulations, thanks to reporting from my colleagues Natasha Bulowski and John Woodside. Read on for more about how the two sides are duking it out, plus a fact check on some of the Alberta premier’s claims.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
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Have a great weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
The clash over clean power
Albertans have faced hot weather this week, and the province’s premier is turning up the heat in her fight with Ottawa, too.
On Monday, Alberta’s grid operator issued an alert urging people to reduce their electricity use. These alerts happen when the power grid is under stress — in this case, because of a combination of three things:
Less wind power than expected
Hot weather that shut down or reduced output at natural gas power plants
A power outage in B.C. that prevented Alberta from importing power across provincial lines
Alberta made it through the day with no rolling blackouts, but Danielle Smith seized on the situation as another opportunity to call for more natural gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel. She took aim at renewables, suggesting wind and solar are unreliable energy sources, and capitalized on the alert to continue her attack on the federal government’s clean electricity standard, which seeks to ensure any emissions produced by our power grid are entirely offset by nature or pollution-capturing technology by 2035.
The premier has a history of not only feuding with the feds but working against the rise of renewables. Smith is so dedicated to the continuation of Alberta’s fossil fuel production, she has thrown up roadblocks to hinder the province’s growing clean energy market, and is fighting Ottawa at every turn. “We need more natural gas generation brought online asap while we develop and implement nuclear, hydrogen, geothermal and other emerging technologies that can provide the base load power we need by 2050,” Smith wrote on Twitter.
“Ottawa’s 2035 net zero regs will make this impossible to achieve. That is why our UCP government won’t let this terrible federal plan be implemented here.”
In reality, wind power contributed the least to the problem Alberta’s grid experienced on Monday. As my colleague Natasha Bulowski reports, wind power produced 70 megawatts (MW) less than expected that day. But far larger reasons for the problem lie elsewhere. The electricity from B.C. that was missing due to planned maintenance on a transmission line? 466 MW. And the amount of power lost at natural gas plants that couldn’t operate at full capacity — or had to shut down altogether — because of the heat? Roughly 600 MW.
As for the backup power that Smith insists Alberta needs to stabilize the grid — the electricity used to compensate when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing — an analysis from the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on the energy transition, suggests Alberta may not actually need that much more to accommodate new renewable energy projects. There are also plenty of emission-free solutions that already exist, like battery and pumped hydro storage.
And while Smith argues the proposed federal rules will prevent more natural gas plants from being built, that’s not actually true. If they’re built before 2025, those facilities can operate for up to 20 years the same way they do now. After that, the clean electricity standard still allows for natural gas power but requires those facilities to use carbon capture technology to keep their emissions out of the atmosphere.
None of this has stopped Smith from decrying Ottawa’s efforts to clean the grid. Earlier this week, she suggested failing to add carbon capture to new natural gas plants, per the federal regulations, would lead to “criminal jail time.”
“I wish that carbon capture was as perfect as they think it is,” Smith said in a radio interview with Global News this week.
“They say that it has to abate 95 per cent of the emissions by 2035 or you go to jail. Like, let's be clear about what it means. It's criminal jail time.”
A spokesperson for federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault snapped back. “Talking about criminal jail time is deliberately inflammatory,” they said. The clean electricity rules are the same as those phasing out coal power, the spokesperson noted, and both fall under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which carries criminal liability for failing to meet its requirements.
Meanwhile, achieving a net-zero grid will be impossible if renewable energy projects aren’t able to come online. Alberta’s seven-month freeze on wind and solar projects was welcomed by some supporters, but many were quick to point out that pausing that economic growth will cost the province billions in investment and lost jobs. Smith tried to pin the decision on the province’s grid operator and its utilities commission, saying they asked for the moratorium, but letters to the provincial government show that wasn’t true, either.
Despite the ongoing outcry over last month’s renewables freeze and the comments on this week’s power grid alert, Alberta is doubling down in its fight against Ottawa. After agreeing to a working group in July to discuss the rollout of Canada’s clean electricity rules as well as the finer details of the federal government’s cap on heat-trapping emissions from the oil and gas industry, Smith drew a line in the sand on Wednesday.
“Under no scenario will the Government of Alberta permit the implementation of the proposed federal electricity regulations or contemplated oil and gas emissions cap,” the premier said in a statement.
Her argument comes down to where Ottawa has authority to make rules and where it doesn’t. (The Supreme Court has already ruled that regulating emissions is something the federal government is allowed to do.)
More than anything, the Alberta government’s fight against Ottawa’s climate rules is about politics, and federal officials have made it clear they are just as willing to dig their heels in. But environmentalists worry the longer this fight drags on, the more likely it is to delay desperately needed action on climate change.
“Premier Smith has been quoted multiple times in her own statements and elsewhere that she is not going to accept any emissions cap — forget a weak one, forget a strong one — she's not going to accept any oil and gas emissions cap,” Aly Hyder Ali, oil and gas program manager with advocacy organization Environmental Defence, told my colleague John Woodside this week.
“So I'm left scratching my head with what the purpose of this working group is, what it intends to do, and how it helps Canada meet its climate commitments and address these catastrophes that we're seeing.”
More CNO reads
Meet the grocer tackling “tragic” wasted food. A Vancouver business owner is partnering with design students and city employees to help cut down on planet-warming pollution from wasted produce, meat and other perishables, Marc Fawcett-Atkinson reports.
Conservatives are trying to weaponize Canada’s judiciary. So writes columnist Max Fawcett, arguing Canadians must fight back.
Ottawa puts a price tag on what Big Tech should pay for online news. The federal government put out draft regulations on the Online News Act on Friday, CP’s Tara Deschamps reports.
Nearly half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. That’s according to a new Leger poll that also finds Tory support growing, CP’s Sarah Ritchie reports.